Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Nostalgic Lighting in the Arcades -- Architectural Critique

The Nostalgic Lighting in the Arcades
-- A critique about Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade
Sunny Huang

The Adelaide Arcade and the adjoining Gays Arcade, built in 1885, are situated off Rundle Mall in Adelaide, and house over 100 speciality retail stores nowadays on the ground floor and balcony level. As the shopping mall of the time, the Arcades took 200 tradespeople around 6 months to build at the cost of 60,000 pounds. 

Both Arcades have reflected the rational principle which form follows function, particularly in term of its linear floor plans which allow both levels to carry out their functions respectively.  Serving as the commercial center of the time, each of the shops consists of one retails store on the ground floor with a workroom on the first floor where an indoor staircase works as a passage to connect them. Although the space for circulation has been narrowed down to the linear lobby, the general structure of this building remains its function as a shopping mall in addition to its structural beauty of mathematical order and harmonic proportion throughout the symmetrical layout. 

The most distinctive feature of the Arcades is the classical style of both the dome and the façade. The imitation of Italianate Dome, derived from Florence Cathedral in 1420, was introduced into the Adelaide Arcade by architects Withall & Wells in 1885. Resting on the top of the building, the Italianate ribbed dome illustrates the Renaissance enthusiasm for the beauty of geometry. Its inventor Filippo Brunelleschi advanced the structure of segmental vault into the dome, based on both the Gothic style of stone vaulting and the doctrinal of Roman engineering, in which the beauty of structure is strengthened by the longitudinal ribs and the latitudinal rings with the precisely designed proportion. This unprecedented proposal has not just placed Italy in the position of both technical and aesthetic pioneer, but set an example for the successors such as Withall and Wells to design the elegant façade of Adelaide Arcade.

Another unique beauty of the façade of Adelaide Arcade relies on its Georgian aesthetics with a bit of Baroque touch. Those columns on the façade indicate that the Georgian style, particularly the Palladian doors, more than any other period of English historic architecture, is kind of simplified style of Greece and Rome which carried on the classical philosophy. Here, the Palladian doors on the façade of Adelaide Arcade serve as the typical examples of the use of classical “orders” in Georgian Classicism. Besides, a reasonable amount of attention was paid to the details on the façade decorated with Baroque embellishment, whose influence was so potent to spread over the Europe around 17th century and to rise together with European colonialism. The Baroque details here give the façade a bit of ornate and theatrical feel in addition to the rigid sense created by the Georgian style. Such combination of different architectural styles makes the façade of Adelaide Arcade a queen having both the rational inner and the sensual appeal.
Wandering through the Adelaide Arcade, one can be truly fascinated by the usage of both natural light and the artificial illumination. The soft diffused lights pour in from the skylights on the roof, together with the electric light which used to be one of the first buildings in Adelaide to use electric lighting of the time, have generated the comfortable intensity of illumination for all the wanders inside.

Besides, setting up on the balcony level of Gay’s Arcade, the Adelaide Arcade’s museum holds a series of historic items including old newspaper clippings, pictures and sketches which tell the story from years gone by. An accordion playing the official Adelaide Arcade Polka adds more charm and rhythm to this mini museum.  
Like every old building with distinctive features, this 126 years old Arcade is still able to tell its story through many refined details. Despite all the remarkable merits mentioned above, we can draw attention to the more dynamic aspect of these Arcades because at times the architecture can often reveal its characteristics when we see it in use. A close inspection in situ may help us to interpret a building through a dynamic process. Our one hour in situ observation starts from 3:30pm. During the peak time of afternoon-tea break, our first, also the major, impression is the Adelaide Arcade is a convenient passage to connect Rundle Mall and Grenfell Street. Except a few people chatting with friends in the café and the old people walking around those boutiques, the pedestrians -- most of them are business people--also take it as a free lounge.

Typical behaviors of those pedestrians in the Arcade can be identified as:

·         Wandering
·         Chatting with friends
·         Sitting
·         Reading
·         Shopping / window shopping
·         Drinking coffee / having lunch  

Although visitors may be attracted by the beautiful façade and inner atmosphere, such an on-site observation raises a few questions as following:

1. What is the identity of Adelaide Arcade?
2. With any inherited identity, is this building supposed to be conservative or progressive?

We can discover one interesting fact that Adelaide Arcade used to be a very progressive architecture of the time.  From the floor plan to the electric lighting, even the cast iron and plate glass, all indicate its radical character of the time. And the most important fact is that it serves for commercial purpose from the first day as it was not born to be a “heritage”.  Adelaide and Gays Arcades are brilliant examples of the 1880’s boom period during which Rundle Street was transformed into a commercial precinct. In 1885, Adelaide Arcade was a novelty, but year by year, yesterday’s novelty becomes historical building today that we talk about and endeavor to keep its original elements.

For any historical building, the transformation from its function to its form could be a dilemma. However, as long as we realize that any heritage is transformed from novelty, thus we are able to change our cliché attitude; some meaningful reforms could be made based on a few assumptions:
If the first priority of Adelaide Arcade continues to be the commercial purpose and the major floor plan can’t be altered---although the nostalgic atmosphere is its natural by-product--- how to turn the random pedestrians into regular consumers in terms of any reform of the structure or the function? This question can be asked in another way: how to attract more new customers to Adelaide Arcade through its design and function?

To be more vibrant, which can be put forward as following, is one of the potential that we see in the Arcades:

1. The enclosed structure creates good acoustic effect, as it may become a great “container” to promote more indoor events which can be participated regularly for the citizens. 

2. The long passage on the ground floor can be transformed into the stage for regular fashion show which will provide the Arcade with more rhythm as stimulate spontaneous shopping around those boutiques, etc.

3. The shops located on the balcony level may not be the ideal destination for random shoppers unless any shopping activity in the Arcade is planned in advance. Turning those empty rooms into small theater room could be one of examples to attract targeted audiences who will also become the potential shoppers. When the movie or the drama is over, those moviegoers come downstairs for relax, it would be much easier for them to grab a coffee or buy a new-arrival.

4. The current entrance of the mini museum on the balcony level is situated in the corner of the courtyard of Gay’s Arcade. If it is moved towards the main passage, that will attract more pedestrians to visit the museum.

Nevertheless, the Adelaide city council has managed to protect the Arcades as one of the renowned cultural heritages; the function of these two Arcades and the ideal location still make them one of the most visited in the city center and one of the most comfortable to wander. However, as a 21st century Arcade, to retain much of its original flavor does not necessarily mean to keep it as fossil.  The new challenge for Adelaide Arcades would be how to blend contemporary environment in historic building with the demands of introducing vibrant business operations to provide a 21st century leisure environment. Being progressive, responding to current theme, they are the ways to be the testimony of our time and to be respected as “heritage” by future generation.

(This is a school assignment)

Stevenson, N., 2007, Architecture Explained – the world’s greatest buildings explored and explained. Revised ed. New York: DK publishing.
Patricia, M., 2003, Adelaide Arcade cupola,, viewed on 10 October, 2011 , viewed on 08 October, 2011.  ,  viewed on 08 October, 2011. ,  viewed on 09 October, 2011.

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